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Madhya Pradesh: ASER silver lining

EducationWorld March 2024 | Education News Magazine
Aditi Maheshwari (Bhopal)

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The annual status of education Report (ASER) 2023, published by the independent not-for-profit Pratham Education Foundation (estb.1995), assessed the learning outcomes of 1,514 teenage children aged 14-18 years from 1,193 households in Bhopal and 60 villages in Bhopal district.

ASER 2023 reports 62 percent of teens struggle with basic arithmetic tasks, such as division problems involving 3-digit numbers and 1-digit divisors, 48.85 percent struggle to read simple English sentences and 42 percent have difficulty following written instructions in Hindi.

Perhaps even more alarming is that 66.55 percent find it difficult to calculate discounts and 93 percent are unable to calculate repayment instalments. And only 2 percent of teens in this age group are enrolled in vocational training programs. The outcomes are stark and grim for the employability of the state’s youth, most of whom are condemned at best to live lives as quasi-literate unskilled migrant workers who drift to southern Indian states to work in low-end jobs in the construction and informal industries.

Some monitors of Madhya Pradesh’s depressing education scene attribute these dismal stats to the shortage of well-trained teachers. A report of the PRS India and Accountability Initiative (2023) estimates 80,000 teacher vacancies statewide, resulting in multi-grade classrooms and inadequate student mentorship. In-school teachers complain of low salaries, heavy workloads, and limited training and development opportunities, affecting their morale and effectiveness.

Access to quality higher education institutions remains uneven, particularly in rural areas, exacerbating regional disparities. “The dismal state of education in MP is rooted in inadequate infrastructure, teacher shortages, low enrolment, socio-economic challenges, and limited access to education,” says Dr. Shobha Shrivastav, ombudsman of MP Bhoj Open University.

According to Shrivastav, teacher training, curriculum updates, and robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms for reforms mandated by NEP 2020 are necessary. “Government can increase the education budget by reallocating funds from other sectors, seeking external funding, promoting public-private partnerships, and implementing tax reforms to generate additional revenue. But it accords very low priority to education and human resource development.”

However, some educationists in the state believe that public education — especially primary-secondary education — is likely to receive greater attention under the new BJP government which was re-elected to office for a third consecutive term.

The 2023-24 budget of the state has allocated Rs.35,230 crore — a 12 percent increase over 2022-23 — to education. “Government initiatives such as Ladli Laxmi Yojna and Sambal Yojana for educating girl children and infrastructure development have great potential. Quite clearly, the state’s budget for educating 20 million children and youth needs to be increased. The community/stakeholders’ involvement is crucial for effective strategic implementation through policy advocacy, public awareness, and establishing private-sector partnerships,” says Dr. Shubhangi Mhaske, professor of microbiology at the People’s College of Dental Sciences & Research, Bhopal.

The prime cause of the educational backwardness of Madhya Pradesh (pop.87 million) — India’s largest state (308,000 sq. km) — is the poor condition of public education. In the state’s fast-growth cities particularly Bhopal, Indore and Jabalpur, high-quality, globally benchmarked private schools such as Sanskar Valley, Bhopal, Emerald Heights International, Indore and Daly College, Indore — all top-ranked countrywide in the EducationWorld India School Rankings 2023-24 — cater to the children of a rising and fast-expanding middle class. Indeed because of high quality education available to citizens, Indore has repeatedly been voted India’s most well-managed city.

Commendably, liberal policies towards promotion and management of private schools and rise of a prosperous urban middle class is having in trickle-down effect in rural Madhya Pradesh. ASER 2023 reports high Smartphone penetration, with 91.25 percent of youth, including 86.55 percent of girl children, accessing social media in the reference week. Moreover, 57.15 percent of 14-18 years-olds use cell phones for educational purposes including videos related to academic studies, resolving doubts, or exchanging notes.

With the formal public education system having failed — and continuing to fail — Madhya Pradesh’s youth, there’s a glimmer of hope that children and youth are self-learning using new media and technologies.

Also read: ASER Report: 86.8% of Indian youths aged 14-18 enrolled in education

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